The Buffalo Sabres have announced that the team has re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. The deal is worth six years with an average annual value of $5.4M per season.
The 21-year-old Finnish blueliner has the makings of a franchise defenseman and was a near certainty to return.
“Rasmus has already proven to be a pivotal player on our blue line and we are eager to have him back with the team,” Sabres General Manager Tim Murray said. “This deal is a reflection of the hard work and improvement Rasmus has shown since being drafted and we hope to see him continue on this trajectory moving forward.”
Ristolainen operates with the confidence of a seasoned veteran. He displays intelligence and dependability in his own end and possesses the ability to quarterback the power-play. In just his third season in the NHL, Ristolainen posted 41 points in 82 games which was a quantum leap from his 20 points in 2014-15. He also led the team in ice time averaging over 25 minutes per game and was the only Sabre to appear in all 82 contests last season.
The Sabres drafted Ristolainen with the eighth overall selection in 2013. At 6’4” and 207 pounds, he has developed into a physical two-way defender with excellent hockey sense. After last season it became obvious that Ristolainen is far and away the Sabres’ best defender and it’s not even close.
While most expected him to play in the top pairing, few could have predicted just how well he would take on such a key role. Ristolainen’s stellar play caught the attention of teammate Josh Gorges.
“There’s very few players in the league that can do everything at a high level. He’s a guy that plays against the other team’s top lines. He’s first-unit power play, first-unit penalty kill, in at the end of games whether you’re up or down a goal.” – Josh Gorges
There is no doubt that Ristolainen has taken his great expectations in stride. After GM Tim Murray traded defenseman Nikita Zadorov last off-season, all eyes were on Ristolainen to develop into a high caliber defender. Time will tell if he can continue to meet the ever growing expectations that surround him, but there is no denying that his career is off to an incredible start.